Hyouka’s eighteenth episode made explicit the distance Oreki and Chitanda have moved towards each other, and brought them even closer together over the course of a mystery investigation that might as well have also been a date. By the end of that episode, Oreki’s classic blushes at being caught by Chitanda’s stare were matched by Chitanda’s own feelings, as she found herself struck by new emotions she couldn’t really describe. Relationships have shifted slowly across the course of this series, but at this point, Oreki and Chitanda are so close together their noses are already touching.
Few shows get to revel in that specific moment, although it seems to be the unstated purpose of a good number of dramas and romantic comedies. People love seeing characters fall in love, or gain a greater understanding of the people they care about. Romance stories often feel built around these moments in the way action shows are built around their setpieces, or horror films around their scares. But these moments are partially special because they’re so rare – characters can rarely stand on this borderline for long without either crossing over or backing away, and so serial romances tend to draw close to the line, back up, and repeat, while self-contained romances simply spend a moment there and then end.
Hyouka’s nineteenth episode is entirely dedicated to reveling in that line, and to articulating just how close Oreki and Chitanda are at this precise moment. It opens with Oreki daydreaming about the nature of mysteries as he avoids thinking about a quiz, and considering how there are almost always multiple solutions that will seem valid. “Which conclusion you reach is a matter of luck,” he thinks to himself. And then we jump to Oreki and Chitanda alone, at peace in the afternoon clubroom.
The two are clearly comfortable together, each of them wiling the time away on their own projects until Oreki brings up the topic of Sekitani Jun. The shots shift from mid-distance to intimate as Chitanda considers something, and a focus on her hesitant, uncomfortable body language emphasizes her vulnerability as she asks him if he’d like to light some incense for Jun. Chitanda can’t bring up this request without blushing at this point – from a position of general neutrality even a few episodes ago, she’s now both actively pushing their relationship forward and clearly feeling the weight of their mutual feelings. And for Oreki’s part, the lighting shifts here, with the light that’s normally associated with her “I’m curious” requests now being applied to what’s essentially a request to go on a date. And as usual, Oreki blushes too.
Up until now, it’s always been a little unclear if Chitanda has been in on the joke when Satoshi and Mayaka start messing with Oreki. She’s so earnest about most things, and so legitimately interested in most of the subjects Satoshi uses to tease him, that you get the sense sarcasm is just not a part of her nature. But here, as Oreki talks about the “wise words of the ancients” and Chitanda responds with “like what?”, it seems clear she’s actually playing games, and humoring him out of fondness and entertainment. And when Oreki actually screws up his famous saying, Chitanda straight-up laughs in his face, demonstrating how comfortable she’s become in messing with his personality. Oreki sets himself up as the brittle straight man in his friend group – his role of the self-serious lazy guy is as much a performance of friendship as Satoshi and Mayaka’s barbs, and he’s perfectly happy playing that role. Seeing Chitanda actually riff on his bluster, in spite of her general tendency towards forthright honesty, reveals how much he’s affected her, and how far they’ve come together.
The framing supports the distinction between the two. While Chitanda pushes them together through her light jokes, Oreki consistently reestablishes neutrality – his change of the subject towards “you can come up with a theory for everything” is accompanied by a shot that divides the two via cactus, and his elaboration on this idea cuts them back to a flat overhead shot. In contrast, the lines of Chitanda humoring him push them together, and are accompanied by a variety of playful expressions. When Oreki says he doesn’t know how he comes up with his theories, Chitanda replies “that’s because you’ve never taken a close look at yourself” – a line that both directly reflects on the themes of the festival arc and represents an imposition of understanding and friendship that Chitanda would never have made before.
And so Oreki proposes a game to test the limits of his “abilities,” asking Chitanda to think up a situation where he could invent a theory. The light strikes him again as Chitanda considers this question, mirroring the last episode’s ending and demonstrating a second time how at this point, each of them create a light for the other. Matching shots put them on equal levels in terms of friends and contestants as Chitanda lays out the rules of the test, and then the dialogue echoes this unity. Oreki makes a jab at Chitanda about her memory, and she laughs it off; Chitanda mocks Oreki for his terrible one, and he grumbles in reply. The two now have so much romantic chemistry that just having them in a room together is almost criminally adorable. “This is an important contest. I’ll have to put some energy into this,” thinks Oreki – but really, this is possibly the lowest-stakes mystery they’ve ever had. It’s just that at this point, Chitanda’s very interest gives him motivation.
The episode continues through a near-fatal nose-touching, as both Oreki and Chitanda get nervous when Chitanda’s enthusiasm finds her right beside him again. But then they’re immediately back to unfairly cute banter again, as Oreki’s leaps in logic and seeming lack of investment in the mystery leads Chitanda to scold him more playfully than ever before. This episode is basically one long string of silly Chitanda faces and cute flirting moments – it’s a sugar high of saccharine adorableness, the kind of scene that would probably make Satoshi gag. If you’re in this show purely for its reflections on the nature of talent and the process of discovering yourself, you might find this episode a little lightweight. But if you have any appreciation for romance or the merest hint of a soul, this episode is the most fluffy and magical of candies.
As Oreki makes another deductive leap, Chitanda pouts again, telling Oreki not to “shortcut through the explanations.” The explanations are what Chitanda’s there for – the “magic tricks,” the parts where Oreki sees some manageable leap in reasoning she couldn’t see. It reflects why she enjoys these mysteries, but it also reflects the fundamental differences in their personalities. While Oreki’s deductions have generally been self-consciously careless things, Chitanda takes these situations seriously; and now that he’s so conscious of her feelings too, her actions cause him to think of his “responsibility” as articulated in the last episode. The need to not be careless in his words and deeds.
But Oreki is right in his first assumption – his deductions here and elsewhere really do require a variety of logical leaps and convenient assumptions. The journey of deduction is ultimately more important than the conclusion, and it reflects his shifting relationship with Chitanda that he now directly invites her on that journey. Instead of simply unveiling his magic trick, he explains himself as he goes along, keeping Chitanda on board with this theories and even asking her for ideas throughout. Oreki becomes more honest through these actions, and Chitanda regularly challenges him and forces him to refine his theories. The puzzle brings the two together, to the point where Chitanda gets so worked up she basically pushes herself onto Oreki. One distant shot framed as a hidden kiss captures exactly how close they’ve become, and then, with their lips almost touching, Oreki asks “this is just a game, right?” A line that applies equally well to the light mystery they’re solving, and to the other game they’re both playing.
The mystery is ultimately “solved,” or at least brought to a seemingly satisfying conclusion. Oreki eventually comes to overtly enjoy the theater of the solution, with the camera supporting his tiny rakugo performance as he comes to his answer. And instead of pretending he doesn’t care, he acts overtly miffed when Chitanda doesn’t seem to react to his deductions – unlike Satoshi, Oreki is basically terrible at reading people, and especially bad at reading Chitanda. Her lack of reaction doesn’t mean she’s unimpressed; it means she trusts him enough to expect this kind of magic. But in the end, that focus on the journey over the solution is validated, as the pair of them forget why they were solving the mystery in the first place, and Oreki makes an extraordinarily rare smile. Oreki is likely right that he’s gotten lucky pretty often, and that it’s not so difficult to come up with theories that fit the evidence. But when exploring those theories makes you and the people you like happy, what else could you really ask for?
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